Government publishes never-before-seen data on children’s homes

Information reveals location, quality and cost of children's homes as Gove attacks the 'scandal' of residential child care and claims government encountered a 'wall of silence' from the sector

Nearly half of all children in English residential care are placed outside their local area, according to government data that reveals for the first time the national picture of children’s homes.

As the data was published today, education secretary Michael Gove said the proportion of children placed outside their home local authority area was “indefensible”.

The information, published by the Department for Education, also reveals children’s homes are concentrated in the North West, West Midlands and South East, with more than half of all homes located in these regions and 25% in the North West.

The data reports 72% of homes in England are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and just 4% ‘inadequate’.

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‘Wall of silence’ on data

Writing in the Telegraph, Gove said he had been astonished at the “wall of silence” the DfE had encountered when trying to access the data following the Rochdale child sexual exploitation scandal.

“The only responsible body with the information we needed was Ofsted – yet Ofsted was prevented by data protection rules, child protection concerns and other bewildering regulations from sharing that data with us, or even with the police.

“Local authorities could only access information via a complex and time-consuming application process – and some simply did not bother,” Gove wrote.

Children and families minister Edward Timpson said the publication of the data would increase transparency and help the government improve the quality of residential care for children.

Greater transparency and accountability

“Over the past year we have been working hard to identify where the children’s residential care system is failing,” Timpson said. “We are overhauling the system removing secrecy, improving quality and securing much greater accountability.”

Pete Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, also welcomed the data. “It shows, for the first time, the location of residential care in England and who is providing it, and highlights just how many children are being placed many miles away from home, which can leave them isolated and at risk of harm,” Wanless said.

“But we also need to improve the quality of practice in our childrens homes. Michael Gove must show what national government can do to accelerate progress beyond just simply drawing attention to the issue,” he added.

However, the Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA), said the figures on the percentage of children placed outside their local area was too simplistic.

ICHA: Data ‘too simplistic’

“Only by having a strategy that accurately assesses the level of need, will we know which child can be placed locally, regionally and nationally,” said Jonathan Stanley, chief executive of the ICHA.

“We do not know the numbers of children who can be placed locally, but it is not 100% if we want to provide specialism and choice for young people. Many children who live in children’s homes are in exactly the right place.”

Stanley said planning rules need to be changed if children’s homes are to become more evenly distributed around the country.

“If we are to have homes in different places, we will need to replicate the support given by the best local authorities and communities,” Stanley said. “Some local authorities now need planning permission to open a children’s home and this will slow or stop the change the secretary of state wants.”

In his Telegraph article, Gove conceded the information wasn’t perfect, but said greater transparency is crucial. “I am sure there will be some who object to this additional scrutiny, accountability and pressure – there always are when there has been failure,” he wrote. “But we cannot allow the interests of adults who have failed to trump the needs of children who have suffered.”

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